Saturday, April 19, 2014

Retting and Rippling - The Story of Linen

By Deborah Swift

My novels often include references to the growing of flax and also to linen, which is the cloth produced from it. It became less popular in the early twentieth century because it creases so easily, though it is now more widely used. But in the 17th century it was one of the most commonly used fabrics,and the flax plant was native to English, Scottish and Irish soil.

Sowing of flax was done after the winter frosts, and the growing season was about three months during which time the stalks would grow to three feet high. Sometimes one patch would be left uncut to provide seed for the next year's harvest. The stalks were pulled up by hand and gathered into bundles which were then stacked in stooks.

Fig. 104.   The stooks of flax.
Field of linen stooks

Next the stalks were laid out to decompose - called retting. Spread out on the grass they would rest there for thirty days or so to get the morning dew. If there was not enouigh dew or rain, then the flax would be watered. Sometimes flax was left in steams or ponds but this polluted the water, and clean water was a valuable resource. Once the woody part has decomposed then the flax was dried by turning it regularly in the sun.

Dressing the Flax

The straw had to be broken by a flax breaker, a wooden paddle to bash the stalks. Then the shoves (broken straw ) was removed, and scutching could take place. Scutching was separating the fibres by beating then still further and then dragging the fibres through a long comb (riddling) to take out any remaining straw and smooth the fibres.

Turning flax into linen takes work. This is a hackle. Some call it a heckle - and it is used to comb short fibers out. Moo Dog Knits Magazine.

Line and Tow

Line is the finest threads of flax, and tow the coarsest. Line (from which we get the word linen) produced a cloth suitable for wearing - shirts for example. Tow produced a harder wearing cloth for awnings, sacks and sails.

Spinning and Weaving

Dutch spinning wheels were introduced into Ireland in 1632 by the Earl of Strafford. Ireland was a big centre of flax production in the 17th and 18th centuries, employing thousands of women and the spinning wheel and distaff. (Shakespeare describes one of his characters as having hair 'like flax upon a distaff').

Bleach Green

Linen Garments

Once woven into cloth, linen was widely used for nightclothes and shirts because of its ability to absorb water (sweat) so it was very hygenic to wear next to the skin. Linen was often used for pleated cloths where it would be folded and dried into pleats. If it was ever washed it then had to be re-pleated, as the water would remove the pleats. Kerchiefs to cover the head were usually of fine linen. In England wool was the main industry, so the linen trade is often overlooked in historical novels. In the period I like to write about, tithes were often paid in bolts of linen cloth which, if the cloth was fine, were costlier than wool. White linen was much prized by the aristocracy for bed linen and table cloths. In Ireland the cloth was bleached by laying out the woven lengths on bleach greens, a  custom that actually continued right up until the 1930's.

1640's nighshirt in linen - Fashion Museum, Bath

One of my favourite parts of learning about old crafts is to learn the particular vocabulary associated with them, vocabulary that has almost disappeared from modern English.

And - here are my books! - You can find out more about them by clicking, which will take you to my website.


Friday, April 18, 2014

Chaos Between the Giants: The Possibilities of Roman Cultural Survival in Post-Roman Britain

by Danny Adams

For anyone seeking to sift real historical information out of legends, treading Sub-Roman Britain – the humble and chaotic era between the giants of Roman and Saxon Britain – means crossing dangerous ground. Sometimes people call it (almost in a whisper) the Arthurian Age, a name both inaccurate and appropriate all at once. If there was any period of British history in the last two thousand years that has a solid claim on myth-making alongside history, it is this one.

When I was writing my post-Arthurian novel Lest Camelot Fall (barely post-Arthurian, as Arthur has only been dead for a few hours when it starts), I didn’t just concern myself with researching whether or not Arthur was real. I also wondered if there was a society in late 5th and early 6th century England that was still Romanized. And if so, might it have fought to preserve Roman culture against invaders?

Happily, it’s no longer true that we know next to nothing about the period between the pullout of Roman troops in 410 – if indeed that was when they did pull out, which I’ll discuss more about shortly – and the early 7th century battles that finally established Saxon supremacy. An increasing focus on this period by scholars is turning up both more literary evidence – though this is still scant, and mostly adding to what we know about pre-existing sources rather than new material – as well as an archaeological record unfolding with renewed interest in the first stretch of Britain’s so-called Dark Age. New discoveries are bearing out the truth that this period was “dark” mainly because few to none were seriously trying to shine light on it for so long.

The archaeological record is also turning up more questions than answers – or at least, seriously questioning even our most fundamental assumptions about the Roman Empire’s westernmost territory.

What is becoming evident with digs down to the 4th and 5th century layers in city and country alike is that Britain might not have been as stable in the Empire’s last decades there as previously thought, certainly not as much as Rome’s continental holdings. Instead, evidence is mounting that cities in particular were already in decline by the late 4th century – and that, as Richard Reece argued over thirty years ago, the Roman economic paradigm was already being challenged by a renewed, traditional barter and gift-giving system as early as the 2nd century.

Archaeologists digging in ancient urban remains regularly find layers of black earth indicating urban spaces being used for gardening, for example. In the late 4th century the layout of the fort and colonia at York were altered to bring civilians and the military in closer proximity to one another. Historians and archaeologists have proposed the idea that perhaps the Britons, even the Romanized ones, didn’t take to the cities nearly as well as their neighbors in places like Gaul, but rather preserved a hot streak of country blood in their veins that began reasserting itself as soon as Rome’s hand began to weaken. That’s still up for debate, but if true it puts a very different spin on all aspects of Britain’s falling away from Rome.

Yet nevertheless, evidence is simultaneously accumulating that the Roman cities still in existence today were continuously occupied to some extent for centuries after the legions left. Even the now-abandoned Viroconium, in Shrewsbury, provides ample evidence for rebuilding between 530 and 570, a total of thirty-three new buildings “skillfully constructed to Roman measurements” according to Roger White and Philip Barker in Wroxeter: Life & Death of a Roman City. Viroconium may have survived all the way to the early 8th century.

This brings us to the famous year: 410, when thus-far accepted history tells us that Roman troops were pulled out of Britain. In fact it isn’t so simple – and may not even be true at all. Stilicho, the Vandal right arm of the seventeen-year-old emperor Honorius and the last man who had any real success at keeping the Western Empire together, withdrew troops from Britain in 402 to help fight threats from King (and former Roman officer and governor) Alaric’s Visigoths, among others. Five years later the usurper Constantine III declared himself emperor from Britain, and he took troops with him – perhaps most or all of the remaining legions – to Gaul to press his claim. He was recognized as co-emperor by the otherwise occupied Honorius, though in 411 Constantine ultimately abdicated after a failed march on Italy, and was executed. By all accounts, however, Constantine’s time in Britain did not make his local subjects happy, and they were likely just as happy to see him go – along with the bureaucracy that never sat well to begin with in a land so far from the empire’s heart.

The year 410 as the withdrawal date comes from the famous Rescript of Honorius, where the besieged emperor – this was the year that Rome was sacked for the first time in eight centuries, by Alaric’s Visigoths – sent out word that essentially told his subjects you’ll have to fend for yourselves. One of the places on the Rescript’s list is “Brettia”, which has traditionally been interpreted as Britain. But more recently scholars have been questioning this assumption, pointing out that the list primarily consists of locations in Italy, and so Bruttium could fit the bill just as well. If that is the case, then Rome may have considered Britain to still be Roman for long after Alaric had his way with the city.

More importantly, though, did the Britons?

Soldiers and bureaucracy do not a culture entire make, nor coins and luxury goods. Roman coins and other items of a higher order like mosaic tiles and Falernian wine may have become unobtainable, but trade, so vital to the preservation of civilization, continued. There is, of course, the ubiquitous survival of Roman city and other geographical names down to our own time. The Venerable Bede, writing in the early 8th century, documented that the language of “the Latins” still existed in Britain. An intriguing recently-discovered Welsh commemorative stone gives a Latin name with the message that the honoree was given the Roman title of prefect in 537 – the supposed year of Arthur’s fateful Battle of Camlann. Norman Davies’ The Isles – A History details evidence of thriving trade in the Sub-Roman period, particularly back and forth across St. George’s Channel and the Irish Sea. Roman historian Martin Henig, a strong advocate of Roman cultural survival in Sub-Roman Britain, has pointed out 5th, 6th, and even 7th century mixtures of cultures that include jewelry with elements of Celtic, Roman, and Saxon motifs blended together, and in places an unbroken survival of Christianity that blended the Celtic with the Roman, such as Latin records, inscriptions, and graves with Celtic names. This continuity primarily can be found in Ireland, but it managed to hold on in other places like Wales – where lived the famous author-cleric and would-be prophet Gildas.

Born in 500 – the possible date of Arthur’s battle at Mount Badon – along the Clyde River in what is now Scotland, Gildas is best known as the author of On the Ruin and Conquest of Britain, our only substantial history of the 5th and 6th century there. Gildas wasn’t particularly interested in being a historian. He wanted to be a prophet, scourging his fellow Britons for their sins, especially sexual ones. His On the Ruin wasn’t meant to be a chronicle but a lashing out at those sins by using historical figures and events as moral examples – good or evil ones. When Gildas lamented the destruction of the twenty-eight Roman-British cities, he was less upset by their physical obliteration or decay as he was the wrecking of them as Christian centers. Every person and story in his work was a religious lesson wrapped up into pessimistic pages.

He would have been a contemporary of Arthur – and Welsh legend says Gildas’ warrior brothers were among Arthur’s enemies – but he never actually mentions Arthur outright. Who he does talk about, though, are two renowned figures of the time: Vortigern, the king who supposedly invited the Saxons to be British mercenaries (a very Roman thing to do), and a warrior-leader with an unmistakably Roman name, Ambrosius Aurelianus.

Ambrosius, still a Welsh hero to this day, was a British native of Roman ancestry credited with winning a great late 5th century battle against the Saxons – perhaps the first great one – along with several smaller ones while leading the “citizens”, the Britons. He grew so powerful that even Vortigern feared him.

Gildas particularly liked Ambrosius. Living in an age where he called British kings tyrants, Gildas described the leader “a gentleman who, perhaps alone of the Romans, had survived the shock of this notable storm”. Ambrosius was almost certainly a Christian – it’s likely Gildas wouldn’t have talked about him so much otherwise, certainly not in glowing terms – and it didn’t hurt that he was a unifying leader against the Saxons, who Gildas considered to be heathens and a punishment from God for British sins.

According to the 9th century The History of the Britons, an Ambrosius (the name Aurelianus does not appear there) was the son of a Roman consul, and to him Vortigern turned over a fortress (possibly Amesbury, though that tradition is shaky) “with all of the kingdoms of the western part of Britain”, ultimately making Ambrosius "king among all the kings of the British nation".

Ambrosius’ ultimate fate is murky. Gildas tells us that Ambrosius’ family had “worn the purple”. While that could indicate that he was a member of the imperial family or a Senatorial family, which wore purple bands, or that they had been tribunes who wore a similar purple band meaning a heritage of military leadership, it could also be a Christian reference to martyrdom.

For Arthurphiles, Ambrosius, this Roman, is the first and earliest candidate for a historical King Arthur. He was said to have worn a bear skin cloak in the fashion of Britons wearing animal skins, and bear in Welsh was Arth. Gildas names him as the leader of an apparently coordinated campaign that dealt the Saxons their greatest defeat, Mount Badon, which chronicles from The History of the Britons onward attributed to Arthur. More to the point, the first great defender of Britons was considered one of “their own” by Britons and those who revered Rome, a blending of the cultures personified.

But whatever happened to Ambrosius, the Britons apparently never had another leader like him – unless there was an Arthur – and they never did as well as they had under him. The Saxons began advancing on British territory again by the 550s, little more than a dozen years after Arthur’s death. It got well underway in 556 with the British loss at the Battle of Beran Byrig at or near the 6th century hill fort of Barbury Castle, and reached a peak with another major loss at the Battle of Chester in the early 7th century. There would be further battles afterwards, but from 615 or so onward the Britons were in retreat everywhere.

So considering this, maybe “How much of Roman culture survived?” is ultimately the wrong question to be asking if we want to get to know the spirit of that time. By the point when the Battle of Chester was fought and lost, Arthur was already being turned into a legend in Wales, along with everything he represented – a golden age where the native Britons, even among Romans, could feel ascendant, or at least secure. The farther they were pushed back into the western hills the more they needed this remembrance of a kind of golden age.

So in the end, it may finally be that while the Britons were learning Latin, creating semi-Roman art, burying their dead under Christian graves, and revering a Roman warrior hero – or turning Arthur into one - it wasn’t Roman culture they were trying to preserve at all. This was a time when security was at a premium and their ageless traditional ways were inexorably being destroyed. It may simply be that while Rome was a hazy memory in Britain by the 7th century, it still invoked a longed-for time of security, prosperity, and peace.

Further References and Reading

The Arthurian Centre in Slaughterbridge, Cornwall, UK:
Martin Henig, “Roman Britons After 410”, Archaeology magazine, December 2002
Peter Korrel, An Arthurian Triangle, E.J. Brill (1984)
Frank D. Reno, The Historic King Arthur, McFarland & Company (1996)
Amélie A. Walker, “King Arthur was Real?”, Archaeology magazine online archive (1998):


Learn more about author Danny Adams


Lest Camelot Fall

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Thursday, April 17, 2014

Rochester, England, Good Friday 1264

by Katherine Ashe

The tales of Robin Hood tell of the longed-for return of the just and able king in an age when the sheriffs are oppressing the people with unheard of taxes and the occupant of England’s throne is wicked King John. According to the tales as we’ve received them, the yearned for king is Richard the Lion Heart. But history differs.

The sheriffs were not especially bad in the reign of King John, and the people so loathed not only him but also his elder brother Richard the Lion Heart that Richard remained in France and dared not go home. His foolishness on crusade had resulted in his being seized and held for ransom, and raising that ransom impoverished everyone in England.

Simon de Montfort
The longed-for king who was abroad and whose return was prayed for was Simon de Montfort. He had made the principals of elective government, set forth in 1258 in the Provisions of Oxford, a reality. He had seized control of England and King Henry III (King John’s son), but had not, like others with such opportunity, murdered his king and usurped the Crown.

Henry III
Instead, he treated Henry with deference and attended him to France to sign a peace treaty with King Louis IX. It was there in France that he realized Henry was maneuvering to undermine the young Parliament. The terms of treaty gave Henry an army for Crusade, but Montfort learned the army was to meet at Wissant, a port for embarkation to England, not Palestine. And Henry was delaying his return home until the army was fully assembled. Meanwhile, in England, the knights elected to represent the people were very vulnerably gathering for Parliament.

Montfort presented himself at the Duke of Brabant’s office, where kings hired mercenaries and where Simon had hired many in the past for Henry. He took command of the mercenaries already hired and marched them to England to the Parliament’s defense.

Plainly, he stole King Henry’s army. Later, on trial for treason, he would explain that he was simply “going where the King ought to have been going.” As for the armed men with him, he replied “I always travel with horses and men.” Margaret of Provence, Louis’s queen, and the Peers of France who judged the trial were moved to hilarity. King Henry was forced to drop his case.

It was during this time, between the establishment of Parliament in June of 1258 and the end of the trial, which had detained Montfort in France from 1260 to 1263, that the misbehavior of the sheriffs – which had been identified and stopped by the Provisions – was resumed and reached its peak, now virtually under license from King Henry.

A popular theologian, Joachim de Flor, in the 12th century had posited a New Age: the Third Millennium, which was to arise about the year 1260. It would be an age of gradual decline of the old order of kings and nations and the rise of a new, all-encompassing world order that would be led by a government elected by the common people.

The events at Oxford were hailed by the Dominicans and Franciscans as the first sign of the New Age. And Simon de Montfort was seen as the Angel of the Apocalypse who was initiating this new era. Even those less given to such beliefs saw him as the fighter for justice and good government. The common folk saw him as the people’s savior.

Kneeling Knight
Pleaders came from England to persuade Simon to return. He did once, with a letter testifying that Pope Alexander IV, on his death bed, gave his support to the Provisions. But he saw no effective movement at that time. His plan for his future was to return to Palestine where the Kingdom of Jerusalem was in confusion and Italian merchant factions were making mayhem in the streets. Once he had been the chosen candidate for Viceroy of Palestine, but the Emperor Frederic II had passed over him. Now Frederic was dead and his empire shattered. If Montfort was ambitious, the Crown of Jerusalem was well within his reach.

As he was preparing to leave for the East, a committee of young English lords came to plead again for his return. King Henry’s abuses had reached such a pitch that an army was gathering at Oxford and Montfort’s cousin Peter already was engaged in battle in the western shires.

Doubting, probably more curious than eager, Simon agreed to go and see what was happening at Oxford. Since King Henry had gained no satisfaction from the trial in France, Simon was at great risk of being seized and tried again for treason in a far less friendly court. He was smuggled from the coast to Oxford, traveling at night and wrapped in an engulfing black cloak.

At Oxford he found virtually all the young generation of lords and many of their fathers who had fought beside him in wars abroad. They were assembled with the single hope that he would lead them, seize England again and make the just and liberal government of the Parliament a permanent reality.

Stunned by the ardent spirit of the young lords and their utter faith in him, he replied to their plea, I’ll as willingly die here fighting faithless Christians, as die in Palestine fighting for Holy Church.

With this new army, in a sweep encircling England, he achieved domination and the restoration of the Parliament. But most of the old lords who still survived, who themselves had clamored for the Provisions, now saw that what curbed the freedoms of the king, curbed their freedoms as well. The old order with its flaws seemed better to them than the new. And they were enraged by the role that Montfort, their colleague, had stepped into -- what they saw as the glorified holy leader of a dangerous cult of reform.

The royalist faction gained increased strength from forces come from abroad. War directly against the king was averted only when, instead of joining in combat just outside London, both sides agreed to arbitration by King Louis in France.

Montfort had reason to feel confident that before the King and Court of France he could place the people’s case effectively and their position would be understood. Parliament was not a usurpation of the powers of the Crown, but a system devised to support a disastrously weak monarch, aiding him to serve his country better. King Louis well knew Henry’s faults.

But on the way to Amiens, where each side was to present its case, as he was crossing a frozen stream just a few miles from his home, Montfort’s horse slipped and fell, crushing its rider’s leg. Simon would have likely died of fever had he tried to travel further. He had to return home. At Amiens, the opinion of King Louis’s confessor prevailed. For elected representatives of the common man to have their will hold sway over a king was a reversal of Nature. It was as if a mouse dictated to an eagle. There could be no Parliament, although its supporters must be granted amnesty. That was the most that Louis could do for Simon, his life-long friend.

Kenilworth Castle
At home at Kenilworth, Simon received the news and refused to accept the decision. He sent his supporters to retake cities that the royalists occupied. His sons Henry and Guy went to seize Gloucester, but failed and soon returned to him. His son Simon led forces to Northampton. Gilbert de Clare, heir to the earldom of Gloucester, was to retake Rochester, on the London to Dover road. He himself would go to London, the center of his strongest support, to assess what military value was there.

His wounded leg had not recovered yet, so his military engineer, who had designed the defenses for Kenilworth, built an armored cart to convey the crippled leader. This fully enclosed steel vehicle became famous throughout England.

London Bridge
At London, Simon found the city strong in his support, every able man armed to fight the war. The city rabble was yearning to see action. To test them, Simon sent the Londoners muster, to the king’s brother’s fief at Isleworth. There the Londoners not only sacked the manse, but raped and murdered everyone they could catch. Simon judged the Londoners unusable in battle.

It was at this time Simon heard that his son Simon and his forces had been vanquished at Northampton and his son captured. He marched with his sons Henry and Guy and a mixed force of young knights, lordlings not yet knighted and archers from Wales, and perhaps from Sherwood and the Weald, north to the rescue – without the Londoners.

Only a few hours from the city, a fast messenger reached the march with news the Londoners were rioting and had attacked the city’s Jews, sacking their homes and businesses and setting their neighborhood on fire.

Abandoning the rescue of his son, Simon returned to the city and found the Jews’ street reduced to cinders and rubble and the whole of the city’s population in a dangerous state of agitation. He ordered the commoners to give up their arms. The order was ignored. So long as he remained among the Londoners a sullen quiet prevailed, but he dared not leave. And while this dangerous lull in his campaign persisted, King Henry’s army moved to attack Kenilworth, then dropped their siege and turned southward to meet more troops arriving from abroad.

Despite Gilbert de Clare’s siege, the royalists under Roger Leybourne and the Earl de Warenne held the city of Rochester and guarded the route from London to Dover and the southern ports. The taking of Rochester was essential. Montfort gathered the unruly men of London, made them a contingent of his army and marched south.

Rochester Castle
Rochester lies on the London road where it crosses the tidal River Medway. It is a city built upon a hill with its cathedral, its central square and its castle on the hill’s summit. Encamping upstream of the city, after consultation with de Clare, Simon apparently summoned the London river boatmen to gather all the boats they could find and to study the river’s tides, the movements of its flow.

The next day, which was Good Friday of the year 1264, the men guarding walled Rochester’s river gate tower saw a multitude of small boats approaching laden with the rabble of London. And before them floated a small ship unmanned and aflame.

Prodded on its drifting course by the boatmen, it rode inexorably on the tide and crashed into the wooden gate and tower. In moments its cargo of flaming pitch had the defense works on fire. Those in the tower leapt into the water where they were stabbed and bludgeoned by the Londoners as their boats crowded in.

The burning gate and wall it guarded were taken, and the rabble disgorging from the boats made their rampaging way into the city streets.

As the riverfront was being overrun, the bell of Rochester Cathedral, at city’s peak, began to toll, for it was nine in the morning of Good Friday: the bell tolled the Lord’s knell.* Within the cathedral, and in every church, the statues were draped in mourning as was customary.

On the far side of the city Montfort, his sons Guy and Henry and their army had joined Clare at the city’s landward east gate. His archers and the archers of Rochester’s militia were fully engaged. Then the arrows from the city slowed. There was a lull and in the lull everyone became aware the bell had stopped its tolling. There was a sound of screaming in Rochester’s streets.
Despite Leybourne’s and Warenne’s orders, the militia archers deserted, rushing to protect their own homes. Montfort and Clare’s men broke through the undefended gate.

The city was in turmoil. The Londoners were running wildly everywhere, committing rape and slaughter, breaking into houses and seizing what they pleased. Simon ordered his own forces to capture anyone seen in the act of rape, murder or theft. Except for Leybourne, Warenne and a few soldiers who’d taken refuge in the castle, the city was taken, but the chaos did not cease.

At the cathedral, across the town square from the castle, Simon found the bell ringer pierced with arrows and hanging from his rope high in the tower. Priests defending the golden objects of the altar lay murdered, the altar stripped. Montfort’s army turned from battling royalists to arresting Londoners. Hundreds were taken in the act of horrid crimes.

At dawn the next morning a large, stout block of wood stood in the square before the cathedral and in easy bow shot from the castle wall. Londoners who had been caught in crime, one by one were hauled to the block and beheaded. The beheadings lasted well into the afternoon, as the people of Rochester mourned their dead.

Leybourne and Warrenne and their men watched from the castle’s battlement but made no move. Nor did they when Montfort, below and well within their arrows’ reach, knelt for a Mass for Rochester’s dead. Then the long line of mourners bore the coffins of the London rabble’s victims to their graves.

Easter Sunday’s Mass was performed in the square. And again Simon, in penance for the sack of Rochester, knelt unarmed, an easy target below the castle wall. Again Warenne and Leybourne held back their archers.

Monday the siege resumed, the castle’s gate was taken by Clare. Montfort remained in his tent, his belief in his cause crushed. Soon he would beg King Henry’s peace, asking only for amnesty for those who’d followed him. But Henry would refuse.

*The hour of the Crucifixion according to the gospels of Matthew and Mark.


Katherine Ashe is the author of the award winning Montfort series, including Montfort The Early Years 1229 to 1243, an Amazon Historical Fiction Best Seller. The battle of Rochester will be found in volume four, Montfort The Angel with the Sword 1260 to 1265.

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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Perkin Warbeck: The Man Who Would be King

by Pauline Montagna

Perkin Warbeck
On 3 July 1495, a small army landed in Kent, headed by a young man who claimed to be Richard of York, the younger son of Edward IV and rumoured to have been murdered with his brother Edward in the Tower of London ten years earlier. First lauded as the late king's son in Ireland in 1491, and now with the support of several European monarchs, he had finally arrived in England as Richard IV to claim his throne back from Henry VII.

This was not the first such claimant Henry had faced. Only eight years earlier, another pretender had come out of Ireland, acclaimed as Edward, Earl of Warwick, the son of George, Duke of Clarence, Edward IV's younger brother. In fact, the real Earl of Warwick, a simple-minded boy, was housed in the Tower of London, and even though Henry paraded the young Earl before the populace, the boy's supporters clung to their belief in him. On his capture, the boy proved to be Lambert (or John) Simnel, the son of a country artisan. Recognising he had been merely a puppet in the hands of his supporters, Henry pardoned him and put him to work in his kitchens.

Richard's small army was routed by Henry's men before he had even disembarked and he retreated to Ireland. There he again found military support, but when his siege of Waterford met resistance, Richard fled to Scotland and the court of James IV. Welcoming the young man as leverage against his arch-rival, James allowed Richard to marry his distant cousin, Katherine Gordon, daughter of the Earl of Huntley. In 1496 they planned an invasion of England together, but James was forced to retreat when the support he expected from Richard's army did not materialise. Disenchanted, James shunted Richard off back to Ireland while he made his peace with Henry, accepting the hand of his eldest daughter in marriage.

In 1497 Richard landed in Cornwall in the aftermath of a bloody rebellion. The Cornish declared him Richard IV and he was soon at the head of an army of 5,000 men. However, on hearing of the approach of Henry's, no doubt larger, army, Richard fled and found sanctuary in the Abbey of Beaulieu, from which he was extracted and taken as a captive to Taunton where Henry was then residing.

In Taunton, Richard was privately interrogated by Henry and then paraded before a panel of notable witnesses to whom he confessed he was not the son of Edward IV. Henry had a signed confession that he was instead the son of a Flemish boatman and that his name was Piers Osbeck (though he was later generally known as Perkin Warbeck.) Henry then made him confess the same to his wife, Katherine.

Henry kept the young couple in his household, treating Richard more as a royal hostage than a prisoner, yet parading him before the people and the court as an imposter and traitor, not pardoned by his King but spared. Meanwhile Katherine was made lady-in-waiting to Queen Elizabeth. Though they could often be seen in public together, Henry ensured they never slept together by putting Richard to bed in his own dressing-room behind lock and key. Their son was taken away from them and raised far from the court. Certain Welsh families later claimed to be descended from him.

After several months in this comfortable but humiliating imprisonment, Richard escaped. How is not known, but it could only have been with outside help. Re-captured only a few days later, he was put in the stocks before being imprisoned in the Tower of London in the room beneath that of the Earl of Warwick. Richard fared badly under these conditions and when brought out some months later to be inspected by representatives of his European supporters, they found him chained and shackled, his spirit broken and his face battered.

Before too long conspiracies began to take shape around Richard and Warwick, though Richard was too dispirited to take an active part and Warwick had no understanding of what was happening. Before anything came of it, an alleged plan for them to escape and usurp Henry was discovered. Now Henry had an excuse to execute not only Richard but young Warwick, as well. Both were tried for treason and condemned to death. As a nobleman, Warwick was beheaded in private. Richard was taken out into the city to be hung, drawn and quartered. After again publically confessing that he was not Richard of York, he mercifully died by hanging before the rest of the horrific ritual could be carried out. Nonetheless, his head was cut off and displayed on London Bridge.

Having never disavowed her husband, despite his confessed imposture, Katherine wore black for the rest of her life. Well-endowed by Henry, but not allowed to leave the court, she continued as Queen Elizabeth's lady-in-waiting until her death in 1502. Thereafter she remained at court, some believe as Henry's mistress, though with his health fast deteriorating, she may have simply been a companion. After Henry's death in 1509, Katherine made the most of her freedom, marrying well three times and becoming a woman of substance. Though her first husband was not mentioned in her will, her perpetual widow's weeds would attest to his never being far from her mind.

Who was Perkin Warbeck?

These are the bare bones of the story, and interesting as it might be, what makes this story fascinating is the mystery of who this young man actually was. Was he really Richard of York? Or was he, as Henry declared from the outset, an imposter trained up by the Yorkists as a mere figurehead? If he was Richard of York, how had he escaped from the Tower and how had he lived until he resurfaced?

Richard himself was rather vague on this question. In his own correspondence with his supporters, he wrote that, after Edward's death, the lord who was sent to kill him took pity on him and let him live and escape to Flanders, but only after he swore not to reveal his true identity for a number of years. Thereafter he wandered the country in misery until he appeared in Lisbon at the court of King Joao II and was quickly recognised as a prince. This tale raises more questions than it answers.

Although in the English translation of this letter, Edward is described as being 'put to death' the original French word he used was 'extinguere' which means 'to be extinguished', which does not specify execution or, in fact, any specific cause of death. Nor does it give any detail of the circumstances which suggest he might have witnessed, or even mourned Edward's death. Neither did Richard ever name the man who took pity on him, nor explain how he escaped to Flanders and who took care of him there. I cannot imagine a prince could really have survived on the streets. Was the truth harmful to his cause, or was he trying to protect those who had helped him?

Official history accepts the signed confession at face value and declares him to be the imposter, Perkin Warbeck. The confession gives chapter and verse of his parents, John and Katherine, as well as his grandparents and family associations. The Warbeck family can be traced in Tournai even today, and an independent deposition describes a Jehan Warbeck searching for his missing son Piers. Yet Henry never brought his prisoner face to face with the Warbecks to verify the confession and a letter purporting to be from Perkin Warbeck to his mother has proven to be a concoction. Even though he may have signed the written confession, in his public statements Richard never said he was Perkin Warbeck, only that he was not Edward IV's son.

While Henry publically declared that his prisoner was nothing more than the son of a boatman, he did not treat him as such, as he had in the case of Lambert Simnel. Rather than say, putting him to work as an oarsman on the royal barge, he, at first, treated him with all the courtesy due to a prince. This may well have been because Richard still had powerful supporters in Europe whom Henry did not want to antagonise, but it may well have been because he himself harboured doubts.

It is interesting to note that in both attempts to free Richard, he had outside help, and both attempts gave Henry an acceptable excuse to imprison and then execute him. Were these attempts actually engineered by Henry himself for his own purposes? Was he trying to justify to himself or to outside observers his treatment of his prisoner? Did Henry believe he had executed an imposter and rebel leader, or one more member of the House of York as he would execute many others?

Henry was right to be wary of Richard's friends who were among the most powerful European rulers and Henry's most dangerous antagonists. They included Maximilian, King of the Romans (later Holy Roman Emperor), Charles VIII of France, James IV of Scotland and Joao II of Portugal. All had met the young man and found his claim and his demeanour convincing, though in some cases, their desire to provoke Henry may have lent some strength to Richard's claims.

Richard's greatest supporter was Margret of York, Dowager Duchess of Burgundy, sister to Edward IV, aunt to Richard of York and virulent in her hatred of the usurper, Henry Tudor. Tournai, where Perkin Warbeck was said to originate, was within Burgundy's sphere of influence. Henry claimed all along that Margaret was the initiator of the conspiracy and it was she who plucked Perkin up and trained him to impersonate Richard of York. The fact that Margaret had been one of Lambert Simnel's supporters lends some credence to this claim.

However, Henry himself threw doubt on his own narrative of Perkin Warbeck's childhood as there were two versions of the confession, the one circulated in England, and a French version circulated on the Continent. While the English version sees Perkin as a lazy and rebellious boy who runs away from home and wanders the street until a soft hearted English merchant picks him up and takes him to Lisbon, the French version sees him as a young man with promise being educated by a well-placed sponsor to enter the church, a young man who may very well have been recommended to the Duchess of Burgundy as a good candidate to impersonate a prince.

So here we have two likely scenarios. The man sent to the Tower to kill the two princes kills Edward but takes pity on little Richard. He organises for him to escape to Flanders for safe-keeping, just as his uncles Richard and George had been sent during the Wars of the Roses. There he is protected by his aunt, the Duchess of Burgundy, who hopes one day to send him back to England to reclaim his throne, throwing her support behind Lambert Simnel to test the strength of the Yorkist cause. An alternative scenario is that after the failure of the Lambert Simnel rebellion, Margaret seeks out a likely young man to be trained up to impersonate her nephew.

However, Anne Wroe has identified a third possibility.

Despite all her prayers and penances, Margaret of York had remained childless, and there is evidence that in September 1478, after the death of her husband, she adopted a little boy who was to be raised in some luxury and well-educated in an isolated country retreat. He was then six years old, the same age as Richard. There is no record of who the boy might have been. He could well have been a neglected boy from Tournai who showed particular promise. However, there is evidence that in the summer of 1478 there was unusual activity at Edward IV's court which involved communication with Flanders.

Could the child have been one of Edward's by-blows sent to Margaret for his protection and to ease her loneliness? The child disappeared from the records in 1485 when he would have been twelve and about the time the Princes in the Tower were rumoured to have been killed. Had the boy been sent into service or to be raised in some noble household? Or had he been sent into even further isolation for his protection, to be brought forward in due course as 'Richard of York'? Richard himself, even when confessing he was not Edward's son, never called himself an imposter, but a substitute.

For my part, my own question has always been: why did Perkin Warbeck choose to identify himself as Richard, the second son, when someone else could easily have gazumped him by claiming to be Edward? Was it because it was known that Edward was dead and Richard had survived? Edward has usually been portrayed as serious and sickly and Richard as lively and healthy. Could it be that Edward did die of natural causes or a medical mishap? Was he bled too much, as one contemporary suggested, or die of septicaemia from bad teeth as a skull which might be his suggests?

Or was it because the child Margaret had in her care resembled Richard more nearly and was closer to his age? If he was not Richard of York, was he perhaps still of royal blood, so closely resembling Edward IV that there could be no doubt he was his son and raised from childhood as befitting a prince?

We'll never know the answers, but while this may be frustrating for historians, it's a godsend for novelists!


Ann Wroe, Perkin: a Story of Deception (published in the US as The Perfect Prince), Vintage (2003)


Pauline Montagna lives in Melbourne, Australia. She has published three books, The Slave, an historical romance set in fourteenth century Italy, Suburban Terrors, a short story collection, and Not Wisely but Too Well, a novel of the young Shakespeare and the first volume of a projected four volume series. You can find out more about her and her books on her website.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Seven Years War, and the Ascension of Pitt the Elder

by Chuck Lovatt

In many ways The Seven Years War was merely an extension of The War of the Austrian Succession, which ended in 1748, at the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle; the fact that it ended inconclusively virtually guaranteed further conflict. An uneasy truce lasted just a handful of years before The Seven Years War (or as it is known in the US, “The French and Indian War”) began.

In North America, New France and the British colonies along the eastern seaboard were both expanding into the Ohio Valley – the overcrowded British hungry for land, and the French in Canada wanting an overland connection from New France to the colony of Louisiana. Contact was made when a large Canadian force came upon a party of New Englanders building a fort near what is now downtown Pittsburgh. The New Englanders were expelled, and the French promptly built Fort Duquesne on the same site.

Shortly after the expulsion, a small party, consisting of a few dozen Canadians, commanded by the Sieur de Jumonville, was sent to warn off the British of any further incursions into what they considered their territory. A force of four hundred Virginia militia, under a young Lieutenant-Colonel, George Washington, was informed of the approach of this party, and subsequently ambushed them, killing ten, the Sieur de Jumonville being of that number. As a state of war did not yet exist between France and England, this became known as The Jumonville Incident.

The French learned of this outrage and sent out a sizeable force in pursuit. Washington, outnumbered, retreated to Fort Necessity, but was nonetheless forced to capitulate. He and what remained of his men, were sent packing, back over the Alleghenies, fortunate to have retained their scalps; all the more so as the officer who accepted his surrender was Jumonville’s brother.

And so, it was game on.

Braddock's Death
However, for the next three years, the ‘game’ did not go at all well for Britain. Although the next year, 1755, they did manage to capture Fort Beauséjour in the French Acadia (on the border of the present day Canadian provinces of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia,) a major campaign against Fort Duquesne on the Ohio Valley, under General Braddock, met disaster on the Monongahela River – Braddock paying for the fiasco with his life.

The next year, 1756, hostilities were formally declared, and France promptly lay siege to Minorca. A relieving force from Britain, under Admiral Byng, subsequently got their noses bloodied, and returned to England in disgrace. As a sign of his disapproval, and pour encourager les autres, King George II had Byng put to death. The effects were not readily apparent, however, for Fort Oswego, in what is now Upstate New York, was the next to fall.

Fort William Henry
The next year, 1757, saw matters go from bad to worse. At Ile Royal (present day Cape Breton Island) an attempt to take the Fortress of Louisbourg was frustrated by a sizeable French fleet, and a hurricane that virtually crippled the armada of the would-be invaders. On the New York-Canadian frontier, Fort William Henry capitulated after a lengthy siege, and the subsequent massacre of over two hundred men, and the kidnapping of women and children, by Indians allied to the French, sent waves of anger throughout the Britain and her colonies.

Meanwhile, in Europe, the Duke of Cumberland and his Hanoverians, met defeat at the Battle of Hastenback, leaving their ally, Prussia, open to invasion. In fact, the only good news to come from that year was Robert Clive’s victory in far off India, at the Battle of Plassey. However, although it would not become immediately apparent, the most important event was the fall of Newcastle’s government, and the rise of William Pitt (or The Great Commoner) to office.
One of Pitt’s more notable achievements was the reorganization of the army – promoting junior officers (who had shown their eagerness to fight) over more lethargic generals, regardless of seniority. Another was his disinclination to fight the war on the European continent, but to use the navy to his advantage, and hit the French where they were weakest, in their colonies.

Early the next year, in 1758, this strategy received a tremendous boost at the naval Battle of Cartagena. With the survivors of the French fleet bottled up in their ports (denying Versailles the ability to reinforce their overseas possessions), the Royal Navy was free to roam at will, and so they did.

Pacifying his European allies with a few brigades of reinforcements, and cash subsidies to keep their own armies in the field (thereby tying down the lion’s share of King Louis’ armies) Pitt now turned his attention overseas.

The first French colony to fall was Senegal in West Africa. On the North American seaboard, a second attempt was made on Louisbourg (which is, coincidentally, the subject of ‘Josiah Stubb,” my latest book [ahem!])* this time with success, thus opening the gateway to the St Lawrence River and Quebec.

Without any expectations of reinforcements from the mother country to meet this new threat, the French were forced to withdraw from the Ohio Valley, leaving Fort Duquesne to the mercy of the advancing British. Thus bringing the original cause of the war to a conclusion.

As good as was 1758, the next year would be even better, and would become known in Britain as the Annus Mirabilis.

The highly lucrative sugar island of Guadeloupe was the first to succumb in the West Indies. The naval battles of Lagos, and then again later, at Quiberon Bay put paid to the threat of a French invasion of Britain.

Next, on the continent, Britain and her allies achieved victory over the French at the Battle of Minden, and finally, on the other side of the Atlantic, Quebec fell following the Battle of the Plains of Abraham, leaving New France virtually unprotected. Montreal surrendered the next year, effectively putting an end to France as a power in North America.


Belle Ile was taken in 1761 - the first time in seven years of warfare that a part of France-proper had been invaded.

Another sugar island, Martinique, surrendered in 1762.

At this point, Spain, eager to maintain the balance of power in Europe, entered the war on the side of France and her allies… and promptly lost Cuba and the Philippines to the British.

At last, virtually bankrupt, France sued for peace at the Treaty of Paris. Spain ceded Florida and Minorca, but received Louisiana from King Louis in compensation. France gave up Canada for the return of her precious (and more easily and cheaper to defend) sugar islands.

In conclusion, the Seven Years War has been called the first World War for obvious reasons, although the same claim has been made of The War of the Austrian Succession, and other wars of the 18th century. Indeed, the entire century has been referred to as The Second Hundred Years War, and its results have been momentous.

For Britain, the gateway to India lay open, and for a short time she held sway over the greater part of North America, including the vast unknown landmass to the west. Even though she would lose her American colonies within another generation, this was the birth of the largest empire the world has ever seen.

For being the architect of this victory, William Pitt was given a pension of £3,000, and eventual ennoblement by a grateful king and nation.

In contrast, France, bankrupt and destitute, rife with discontent, faced the horrors of revolution, launching the world into another world war that, per capita, would be the bloodiest that the western world had ever known, the First and Second World Wars of the Twentieth Century notwithstanding.


*For more information on the siege of Louisbourg, and a ripping good yarn besides, check out the giveaway section of this blog for a free copy of my recently released book, “Josiah Stubb: The Siege of Louisbourg.” Here’s the blurb:

"It is 1758 and The Seven Years War is raging. The military might of the British and French empires collide in a desperate bid to control the key strategic Fortress of Louisbourg and, in turn, Quebec and French-held North America.

"One man caught amidst the bloodshed is the young grenadier, Josiah Stubb. Raised by a whore amidst poverty and incest, Josiah seemed doomed from birth to a life in the gutter. His attempt to leave his sordid past behind leads him to Louisbourg, but it comes back to haunt him in the form of a gifted officer, battling his own inner demons.

"As the siege blazes towards its inevitable bloody climax, will Josiah live to overcome the formidable obstacles that keep him chained to his past, or will his aspirations for a better life die with him on the brooding shores of Ile Royale?"

Amazon US
Amazon UK
Amazon Canada

The Fenland Riots

by Ann Swinfen

My new novel Flood takes place in the seventeenth century in a very distinctive area along the east coast of England, known as the Fens. Once a remote, slightly mysterious region of marshes and hidden villages, it attracted the attention of men greedy to get their hands on land by fair means or foul, never mind the consequences for the local inhabitants. They used the notorious method of ‘enclosure’, but in the Fens they were up against a formidable people who could not easily be bullied into submitting. When I discovered their story, I knew I had to write about it.

I had always known about enclosures, of course. From roughly Tudor times to the nineteenth century in England, land was stolen by large landowners or groups of speculators by semi-legal means. This stolen land was ‘common land’, that is, land held in common by a group of people, often the free villagers of a parish who were peasant farmers or yeomen. They had ancient rights to cultivate arable land on a shared basis, to graze their flocks and herds on local meadows, and to gather firewood and feed their pigs in neighbouring woods.

The enclosers fenced off the commons, expelled the commoners – sometimes even seizing their animals – and took possession of the land for themselves. The local people rarely had any means of redress or compensation. If they went to law, almost invariably they lost their cases, at considerable financial cost, when opposed by those with influence and deep pockets. The result is that there are very few common lands left today. Port Meadow in Oxford still has common grazing for a few Freemen who can claim ancient rights granted by Alfred the Great. The New Forest has privileges for those who are eligible.

This was a massive injustice, carried out under the guise of land improvement, or in order to create large wool-producing businesses. And in some cases it may have led to more efficient farming methods, but nevertheless it resulted in poverty, starvation and dispossession for many of its victims. The Highland Clearances in Scotland had a similar effect, although in their case small tenants were cleared off land already owned by a wealthy landowner in order to produce a larger income from sheep.

The Fens of East Anglia (stretching along the east coast of England from Cambridgeshire, Suffolk and Norfolk to Lincolnshire) were from ancient times an area where land, water and marsh combined to form a rich tapestry with unique problems and rewards. The natural phenomenon of the area is the annual deposit by winter rains of rich silt from higher ground inland on to the lower arable fields of the fenlands. This produced some of the richest soil in England.

Floods would cover these fields in winter, then drain away, leaving land ready for cultivation. Between these arable fields lay a network of ancient peat bogs and waterways – some natural, some man-made over the centuries by local people who understood their special environment and the behaviour of their annual floods. They lived by arable farming, raising stock, fishing and water-fowling. The peat bogs provided fuel as well as absorbing excess water, and the rushes and willows growing along the waterways furnished materials for everything from thatch to hurdles and eel-traps.

Then, in the early seventeenth century, the ‘adventurers’ came – adventurers because they invested their money in a speculative venture. They would drain this boggy land, which they mistakenly believed to be poor and unprofitable, seize control of it, and install settlers from Holland and France as rent-paying small farmers. The return on their money would be phenomenal – it was a fool-proof investment. There were plenty of Protestant refugees from Catholic persecution on the Continent who would be only too glad of a chance to start a new life on the reclaimed lands.

And what of the local people? Many held charters of ancient rights. These were ignored in the law courts. Some tried to obtain compensation, but often found themselves imprisoned or fined instead, for attempting to oppose the speculators.

Oliver Cromwell
But they were a tough people, the fenlanders. They fought for their rights, destroying the drainage ditches and pumping mills, attacking the drainage workers and settlers. The unrest spread throughout the Fens and was one of the underlying causes of the English Civil War. The war itself brought a temporary halt to the drainage, but in the lull between the two phases of the war, it began again. And whereas the first period of drainage and enclosure had been financed by the aristocracy and the king, the new speculators were the men who had risen to power under the new government, and included Oliver Cromwell himself, who, in the past, had declared that he would protect the fenlanders.

Matthew Hopkins, Witchfinder
I was drawn to the period and the events in the Fens by the persistent courage of the local people in defending their land and their customary way of life. I was also fascinated by discovering that the women fought alongside their men, some of them even being accused of being witches because of their unwomanly behaviour. Yes, this was the very period when the infamous ‘witch-finder general’, Matthew Hopkins, was roaming over this same area, instigating witch-hunts and hounding hundreds of innocent men and women to their deaths. Mostly women. But some men too. Because of the imposition of strict and unforgiving Puritan rules by Cromwell’s government, clergymen who continued to practice the established ceremonies of the Anglican church – such as baptism and church weddings – were attacked and in some cases tried and executed for witchcraft.

The more I read about the Fenland Riots, as they came to be known, the more I wanted to tell the story of these persecuted people. In my novel Flood, Mercy Bennington and her family and friends provided the voices of those forgotten seventeenth century forebears of ours.

And the irony of it all? Because the engineers brought in to drain the Fens did not understand the local terrain, their works resulted in uncontrollable floods. Water which would once have been absorbed by the marshland was pumped out into new ditches which overflowed and flooded villages and homes. Not until the nineteenth century was efficient drainage carried out, and it destroyed the peat bogs which by the present day have withered and shrunk, so that in many places the rivers are now higher than the surrounding lands, a dangerous and unsustainable situation. In recent years it has come to be realised that the marshes along the sea coast of the Fens used to provide a buffer against that other source of floods – floods from the sea. As a result, some coastal farmlands are now being allowed to revert to salt marsh, to protect the land.

I wonder what Mercy Bennington would have had to say about that?

Fraser, Antonia, The Weaker Vessel: Woman’s Lot in Seventeenth Century England
Lindley, Keith, Fenland Riots and the English Revolution
Plowden, Alison, Women All on Fire: The Women of the English Civil War


Ann Swinfen ( published three novels with Random House, but her three latest – The Testament of MariamFlood and The Secret World of Christoval Alvarez – she has published herself under the imprint Shakenoak Press. Loving the whole independent publishing process, and the control it offers to authors, she thinks it unlikely she would ever return to conventional publishing. Some of her short stories which previously appeared in magazines and on BBC radio are now published on Kindle. She has also reissued her backlist titles as paperbacks and Kindles.

FLOOD @ Amazon UK

FLOOD @ Amazon US

Monday, April 14, 2014

Giveaway: Josiah Stubb: The Siege of Louisbourg by C.W. Lovatt

C.W. is giving away an ecopy of Josiah Stubb: The Siege of Louisbourg. You can read about the book HERE. Please return to this post to enter the drawing by commenting below. Please be sure to leave your contact information.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

King Henry's Treasure and the Kingdom of Jerusalem

by Helena P. Schrader

Tomb of Henry II at Fontevrault

Henry II of England is one of England’s most colorful, fascinating and controversial kings.  He is usually remembered for forging the Angevin Empire, for his tempestuous relationship with his strong-willed and powerful queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine, for the murder of Thomas Becket, and – among more serious scholars – for laying the foundations of English Common Law.

He is not remembered as a crusader. This is because, although he took crusader vows, he never actually went to the Holy Land. Indeed, most historians credit Henry II with disdaining crusading in preference to building an empire at home. Certainly, his refusal to accept the keys of the Holy Sepulcher from the Patriarch of Jerusalem in 1185, reflected a preference for holding on to what he had over seeking glory and salvation “beyond the sea” in “Outremer.”

Yet a focus on Henry’s legacy in the West obscures the fact that his ties to the Holy Land were much closer than is commonly remembered. First of all, his grandfather, Fulk d’Anjou, had turned over his inheritance to his son Geoffrey in order to go to the Holy Land and marry the heiress to the Kingdom of Jerusalem, Melisende. Geoffrey d’Anjou was thus the half-brother of Kings Baldwin III (reigned 1143 – 1162) and Amalaric I (reigned 1162-1174) of Jerusalem. This made Henry II first cousin to the ill-fated Baldwin IV of Jerusalem.

The Arms of the Kingdom of Jerusalem

Baldwin IV suffered from leprosy and could not sire an heir. As his condition worsened and the armies of Saladin drew stronger, he looked desperately for a successor capable of defending his inheritance. He did not see this either in his five year old nephew, or in the husbands of his sisters. It is with this incipient succession crisis in mind, with Saladin beating the drums of jihad at his doorstep, that the mission of the Patriarch of Jerusalem and the Grand Masters of the Knights Templar and Knights Hospitaller of 1185 must be seen.

Baldwin IV sent these emissaries to offer the keys to the Holy Sepulcher and the Tower of David first to Philip II of France and then to Henry II of England. By all accounts, Baldwin’s real hopes lay with Henry II – a powerful monarch, who had proved his abilities on the battlefield again and again. The Patriarch’s plea was for Henry II – or one of his sons – to come to Jerusalem and, implicitly, take the crown itself. Baldwin IV, many historians believe, wanted Henry II to end the succession crisis and restore the House of Anjou in the East.

Henry II, as I noted above, declined to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps and surrender his hereditary lands for the Kingdom of Jerusalem. But he was far less indifferent to the fate of his cousin or the Holy Land than this decision suggests. As early as 1172, when Henry II reconciled with the Church for his role in the murder of Thomas Becket, he took the cross and started accumulating “large sums” of money in Jerusalem. This money, historian Malcolm Barber writes in The Crusader States, (Yale University Press, New Haven, 2012) was “intended for use when he eventually travelled to the East.” In 1182, Henry II made a will which left an additional 5,000 marks silver to both the Knights Templar and the Knights Hospitaller for the defense of the Holy Land, and another 5,000 marks was bequeathed for the general “defense of the Holy Land.” That is a total of 15,000 marks silver, an enormous sum, which he intended for the defense of the Holy Land.

Manuscript Illustration of a 12th Century King

Since he did not die in 1182, this money never reached the crusader kingdom, but three years later, although Henry felt he dare not leave his kingdom (at a time when the French and his sons were trying to tear it apart), he did agree to a special tax (often referred to as the “Saladin Tax”) the proceeds of which were to go to the Kingdom of Jerusalem.

Finally, when the news reached him in 1187 of the fall of Jerusalem and the desperate straits of the Kingdom, Henry II again took a crusader vow. While many historians (and even more novelists) disparage this as a ploy, it is just as possible that he was sincere – so long as those who coveted his kingdom and threatened his crown, Philip II of France and his son Richard – went on crusade with him! We will never know how sincere his intentions were because he died before the Third Crusade got underway.

Meanwhile, however, his treasure had already played a crucial role in the history of Jerusalem. There are no figures for just how large King Henry’s treasure was, but it was undoubtedly more than the 15,000 silver marks mentioned in his will of 1182 because there had been money deposited prior to this, and the “Saladin Tax” that came afterwards.  Significantly, the money had been entrusted to the militant orders for safe keeping. This means that the money could be deposited in London, and paid out in Jerusalem through the networks of the Templars and Hospitallers.  Furthermore, based on the testament of 1182, it would appear that Henry carefully distributed the funds between the two militant orders, rather than favoring one over the other. This, unintentionally, resulted in his treasure having two very different uses.

In 1187, as Saladin prepared to launch an all-out offensive against the Christian kingdom of Jerusalem, King Guy had little choice but to call-up a levee en masse to put the largest force possible in the way of the invaders. Against a force of 45,000 including some 12,000 cavalry, King Guy could muster only about 1,000 knights, 4,000 light horse and some 15,000 infantry. In light of this, the Grand Master of the Templars, Gerard de Ridefort, handed over King Henry’s treasure to finance more fighting men. It is unclear from the sources whether these were mercenaries, light troops, or, as some say, the outfitting of 200 additional knights. In any case, Henry II’s money helped contribute to the army that marched out to meet Saladin – and was destroyed on the Horns of Hattin on July 4, 1187.

Medieval Warfare from a 14th Century Manuscript

The Grand Master of the Hospitallers, however, did not release King Henry’s treasure in advance of the Battle of Hattin. The money Henry II had deposited with the Hospitallers for the Holy Land was still in Jerusalem when the city surrendered to Saladin in October 1187. The terms of the surrender allowed the residents 40 days to raise a ransom of 10 dinars per man, 5 dinars per woman and 2 dinars per child. Those who failed to pay the ransom became slaves by right of conquest at the end of the 40 days.

At the time these terms were negotiated, the Christian defender of Jerusalem, Balian d’Ibelin, knew that there were some 40,000 (some sources say 100,000) Latin Christian refugees in the city.  He knew that many of these were destitute, having lost all they owned to Saladin already, and so were in no position to pay their ransom. He negotiated the release of 18,000 poor for a lump sum of 30,000 dinars.

Sources differ, however, on where this money was to come from. Some suggest that it came from King Henry’s treasure, but others suggest the initial sum was paid from the treasury of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, but that it soon became evident that there were more poor people in the city than Balian had estimated – or had the resources to ransom. (He’d lost all his lands to Saladin already too.) It was at this juncture, they say, that the Hospitallers handed over King Henry’s treasure to ransom as many of the poor as they could.

In the end, even Henry’s treasure was not enough and some 15,000 Christians were sold into slavery. Nevertheless, King Henry of England played an important role in ransoming thousands of Christians trapped in Jerusalem, minimizing the number sold into slavery. His son, of course, played an even greater role in rescuing the Kingdom from complete obliteration, but that is another story….


Helena Schrader is writing a series of ten novels set in the Age of Chivalry. For more information visit her website: or watch the video teaser Tales of Chivlary. One of these novels is set in the Holy Land during the crusade of King Louis IX of France.

A crusader in search of faith --
A lame lady in search of revenge --
And a King who would be saint.

St. Louis' Knight takes you to the Holy Land in the 13th century, and a world filled with knights, nobles, prophets -- and assassins.